This expression connotes that one is willing to not insist on accusing someone of a mistake despite most evidence pointing to that someone as being responsible. As in a legal proceeding where the jury feel there is a reasonable doubt the defendant transgressed the law
More colloquially, when not understanding why someone took a certain action or made a decision that impacted others negatively, this expression means one doesn't impute bad motive on the someone.
For example, someone says something very insensitive to you that hurts you, it might be a delicate situation or something very personal. If you give them the benefit of the doubt you don't feel they had bad motive but were trying to help or encourage.

How can I express this in Chinese?

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    I think in law, there is this principle "疑点利益归于被告", meaning to give the accused the benefit of doubt (or innocence is presumed unless proven otherwise). In general, 姑且不计/原谅/相信 can be used when someone tentatively stop faulting, forgive or trust another party.
    – 杨以轩
    Commented Aug 28, 2013 at 8:15
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    The idiom means "to decide that you will believe someone, even though you are not sure that what the person is saying is true" (dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/american-english/…), which contradicts your "despite most evidence pointing to that someone as being responsible"
    – George
    Commented Aug 28, 2013 at 8:52
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    @Stan it seems to be '无罪推定' in legal space and '善意推断' in everyday expressions. Personally I've not heard 疑罪从无 before and it takes time to understand it upon hearing.
    – NS.X.
    Commented Aug 28, 2013 at 18:42
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    @Stan, I am not sure about the proper terminology, maybe both you and NS.X. are correct. I gleaned this phrase from watching HK court drama. Wikipedia and Baidu both use 无罪推定 though.
    – 杨以轩
    Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 8:41
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    @QuestionOverflow 疑罪从无 is the subset of the 无罪推定 concept. 无罪推定 consists of 1) before judgement completion, the identity of suspects should not be criminals; 2) generally a defendant doesn't have an obligation to prove their innocence; 3) 疑罪从无. So, as OP has narrowed the description "most evidence pointing to that someone as being responsible (but not so sure)", I choose a more precise terminology for that. BTW, "疑点利益归于被告" is actually a bad, literal, word-for-word translation for "The benefit of the doubt goes to the defendant" -- I personally hate it though it is actually used in HK.
    – Stan
    Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 10:10

5 Answers 5

  1. I think "寧縱勿枉" best fits the description.
    It literally means not enforcing justice ("縱" as in "縱容") for fear of accusing someone wrongly ("枉" as in "冤枉"). The opposite phrase is "寧枉勿縱". Note that the sayer does not necessarily forgive the suspect here.

    • 沒有實質證據證明銀包是小明偷的,寧縱勿枉,此事就算了吧。 (There's no direct evidence proving Ming stole the wallet, giving him the benefit of doubt, let's be done with this.)
  2. I think "無心之失" is applicable for the second description.
    It means one is not intended for the mistake made.

    • 雖然他這樣做是不對,但我相信只是 無心之失,你不要責怪他吧。 (It's not right for him to have done that, but I beleive he doesn't mean it, don't blame him, okay?)

EDIT: added examples, sorry that the English translation may not be the best.
The OP also updated the question so I think the answer here is more appropriate.

  • 寧縱勿枉 is used when you are UNSURE whether the person is responsible or not. The OP asks about the case where you KNOW he is responsible but willing to FORGIVE him. Commented Aug 28, 2013 at 6:54
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    寧縱勿枉 fits the idiom "give someone the benefit of the doubt", which means it is UNSURE (dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/american-english/…)
    – George
    Commented Aug 28, 2013 at 8:54
  • @leesei, Can you give these in a sentence please?
    – user3871
    Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 15:50
  • I think this answer does an excellent job addressing the meanings that the OP was really looking for. +1 for persistence and updating your answer as more information became available! Commented Aug 30, 2013 at 4:03
  • @StumpyJoePete Thanks. Glad to help people interested in Chinese here. I've learn something from these questions as well.
    – leesei
    Commented Aug 30, 2013 at 4:12

Are you sure they can be expressed with the same phrases?

  1. I think 既往不咎 is appropriate here. It means: Since your mistake is already committed, I will just forgive you and let it go.
  2. 不知者无罪. Another possible sentence goes like: 虽然我不清楚你为何这么做,但是我相信你的本意不是如此(如此 here means 伤害别人)。

Giving someone "benefit of the doubt" suggests uncertainty as to the motive or intention.

If a kid knocks over an ugly vase, and the kid claims it was by accident, you could give the kid the benefit of the doubt, and accept the apology.

So what does it mean to give someone the benefit of the doubt? According to the Cambridge dictionary:

to ​believe something good about someone, ​rather than something ​bad, when you have the ​possibility of doing either

Say you're 35 and single, and at every family gathering you get recurring questions on your plans to get married. As tempting as it is to assume everyone is out to ruin your day and the old fogeys are showing their age by insinuating outdated social values, another way to interpret the situation is to give all of them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they asked because they care about you. Or it's just an easy conversation starter. They don't mean you any harm and didn't mean to hurt you.

In this situation, I would say colloquially: 她們不是故意的,別想太多, or, they didn't mean it that way, don't overthink it. Neither "寧縱勿枉" nor "無心之失" is appropriate here. The former sounds stiff and out of place as it has a connotation of legal speak. As for the latter, the focus is on "之失". You've already made up your mind that the person is at fault, just that it was a fault committed unintentionally.

Depending on the scenario in which you want to say "give benefit of the doubt" in Chinese, why not consider 疑中留情? I first came across this term via this forum. The examples provided in this other forum includes letting a student retake his final exam, as he claims that a family emergency resulted in him having to miss the exam at its originally scheduled time.

In English, to give someone the benefit of the doubt is to believe in their [good] intentions. The emphasis is on the good intention, not the perceived slight, and not the presumably offensive action. In my experience growing up in my Chinese household, the emphasis was always on the outcome, the action. Intention didn't matter. If I were to assume most traditional Chinese household was like this, then yes, giving the benefit of the doubt is a foreign concept. It mattered most what was done, the action.


The accepted answer "寧縱勿枉" is the correct interpretation

I just want to add one point.

There's a legal term “Benefit of the doubt must go to accused" -- ”「疑點利益歸於被告」"

疑點利益歸於被告」其實基於香港行的法制: 「寧縱勿枉」; 大陸行的法制則是「寧枉勿縱」(枉係冤枉; 縱係縱容)

Therefore , we can translate "Benefit of the doubt" as "疑點利益" in Chinese . And "giving someone the benefit of the doubt” Can be translated as "把疑點利益歸予某人"


在沒有證據的情況下,我們衹能把疑點利益都歸予他 (In the absence of evidence, we can only give him the benefit of the doubt.)

在沒有證據的情況下,我們衹能寧縱勿枉 (In the absence of evidence, we must rather wrongly acquit than wrongly convict)


There is no Chinese translation for "benefit of doubt." Few Chinese people realize this. Doubt is an alien concept. There is no Chinese word for "doubt."

An accurate translation should reveal the relation between the lack of evidence and the suspension of judgement. This relation is the essence of the word "doubt."

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    iciba has 10 example sentences mostly covering the colloquial situation referred to above (not including any of the suggestions above),nciku has 3 example sentences covering the more or less legal situation
    – user6065
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 4:38
  • Thanks, @S.Rhee. They all missed the mark, otherwise I would not have the temerity to make the above statement. Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 4:55
  • 疑 解说:疑从匕矢子疋。匕是比,矢是箭,疋是定。比矢之长短而不定,为疑。矢部件是箭,同时古代也常用矢来比较长短。同为比较长短之意的矢部字有“短疑矮”等字。Originally means uncertain. Etymology: 匕 compare; 矢, arrow; 疋, determine;疑: compare the length of arrows; and not sure which one is longer. Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 6:05
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    @GeorgeChen, Why do you say there is no "doubt" in Chinese? "疑" = doubt. "无疑" = no doubt. Otherwise, what would you say "无疑" mean?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 13:34
  • @Pacerier, 疑 = uncertain; "无疑" = certain. Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 6:21

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